Archive for September, 2010

Blech

September 27, 2010

We spent the weekend in the hospital with poor Evie, who caught some sort of bug and lost a lot of fluid from both ends. She ended up dehydrated and requiring an IV. I hope that the process of sticking her to give her the IV was more traumatic for me than it was for her. I couldn’t help but question my actions as I held down my crying (with no tears – she was too dehydrated to make tears) and screaming child while the nurses wiggled a needle around in the back of her tiny hand. The IV success rate was 20-25% – most of the attempts to get a working IV failed either entirely or shortly after taping it to her arm.

Of course we tried less invasive methods to hydrate her first, but she wasn’t interested in nursing, drinking milk from a cup, or drinking Pedialyte. We did manage to get an ounce and a half of Pedialyte into her with a syringe, which she promptly puked onto the hospital floor. All of the sticking did manage to do one thing – it eventually upset her badly enough that she nursed and nursed and nursed. She did get better after a couple of days, with the help of a little bit of saline and a lot of exclusive breastfeeding.

Everything turned out all right, and today she has been playful (although a touch clingy, which is understandable after all the stickings from strangers). But I have to wonder if I could have done something better. The nurses mentioned something about strapping her to some kind of board in order to place the IV, which is what they apparently normally do with very young children. I insisted on holding Eve myself, and even though it upset me to do it I have to hope that it was better than the alternative.

Here’s hoping that the rest of the week is significantly less shitty.

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On The Brink Of Change

September 24, 2010

I feel really good about today. My pathway 3 application to the IBLCE was approved, and today I start my lactation course. I’ve been reading books about breastfeeding, mostly from a cultural and sociological perspective, and while it is fascinating to study and certainly critical to a comprehensive understanding of breastfeeding, I’m also very anxious to finally delve into the biology and clinical practice behind it.

Today is also the last day that I will be driving my car to drop Eve off at daycare and to go to work. I’m picking up a folding bike, a beautiful vintage Raleigh Twenty, which I will be using for mixed mode commuting. Starting on Monday I’ll be dropping the baby and the car off at daycare, then riding my bike to the rail to go to work. It’s the first step towards becoming a full-time bike commuter and I am excited.

While both of these things seem minor, they are actually pretty big deals for me. I spent most of my life being absolutely befuddled about what I wanted to do career-wise; I’ve been miserable at the same crappy corporate job for the past six years and to finally have a path – and to take a step onto that path! – is at once exhilarating and terrifying. In order to put my all into this, I’m eventually going to have to quit my job; and despite the fact that my job has always made me unhappy (and at a few times has been literally detrimental to my mental health and wellbeing and my physical health and wellbeing), I am really afraid to leave it because for almost seven years it’s been everything that I know. The idea of changing jobs scares the shit out of me.

Unfortunately, due to the bike-unfriendliness of my city, so does commuting. I didn’t grow up using buses or rails because my brother and I were never allowed to use them without my parents – and my parents refused to use them. We did everything by car, even little stupid trips a few blocks away. Cycling in the road scares me (although not as much as it did before I started doing it), taking the bus scares me, and riding on the rail scares me. Even walking scares me. I feel so vulnerable when I’m not in my car and I worry about people trying to hurt me whether it’s particularly warranted or not.

I’ve come to realize that my decision to go car-lite (with the eventual long-term goal of being car-free) requires much more mental rewiring than I anticipated. Just the other day, I rode my bike two miles to Home Depot to pick up some brackets. I felt so proud of myself for doing a chore by bicycle, and then soon after getting home I drove about 500 feet to a 7-eleven in my neighborhood. It wasn’t until I was actually parked in front of the 7-eleven that I realized what a massively stupid and thoughtless thing I had done. I tried to rationalize it by telling myself that they wouldn’t have let me bring my bike in anyway (and I don’t have a bike lock), but then another part of me said, “Well then you should have walked, asshole.”

I’m trying to undo the training that compels me to use my car for every simple thing. I have to remember to ask myself, “Can I do this another way?” before reaching for the keys. It’s a work in progress.

So yes, today is a day of changes, and despite my fears and reservations, I feel good about them. I have butterflies, but I’m trying to tell myself that butterflies are okay.

How about you, dear readers? Any changes brewing in the distance?

Before There Was Slavery

September 21, 2010

The title of this post is not addressing the time before humanity ever began enslaving one another (if there even is such a time), nor is it referring to the time before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. What I’ve been thinking about lately is the time before a Black American child is ever told about slavery, about Jim Crow, about the lynching parties, about the experiments on black bodies, about the complete annihilation of the cultural identities and inheritances that should have been ours by birthright.

Personally, I can’t remember a Before. By the time we discussed slavery in school, I already knew about it. I have to assume that my family told me, but I don’t even know that for sure. My education regarding slavery in school was pretty much along the lines of: “There were slaves, and then Lincoln freed the slaves because he was so kind towards black folks, and then there was Jim Crow, and then white people saw the error of their ways and ended that out of the goodness of their hearts (oh, and MLK wrote one speech, which was helpful), and now everyone is equal, yaaay!” As I mentioned in Raising a Woman of Color, Part III: History, the stuff that we DIDN’T learn about greatly outweighed the amount that we actually did learn about.

I’m thinking about Eve, and I wonder how I’m going to tell her. I don’t want her to learn the pathetic, watered-down, can’t-really-blame-nobody version that I learned in school. Leaving it up the the schools is simply not an option. But, like most parents, I also don’t want to hurt her. And how can I possibly tell her the truth without hurting her?

When it comes to sex ed, I feel very confident. There will be no singular “sex talk” with Eve; we will be talking consistently and comprehensively about her sexuality and how to keep it healthy for her entire life. I’ll introduce certain topics in a way that is appropriate for her level of understanding; I hate to call it “age-appropriate” because children vary so wildly in their development, and what is appropriate for one 7-year-old may not be for another 7-year-old. I guess the discussion will be more Eve-appropriate, since her own mental, emotional, and physical development is what will help guide us in educating her about her sexuality.

But when it comes to this, I feel a lot less confident. I want to do the same thing, to make race and racism and our cultural heritage a lifelong conversation, but I am at a loss when it comes to deciding what is Eve-appropriate and when to introduce it. Is there ever a good time to tell a child that hir foremothers were raped, beaten, mutilated, and murdered for fun and profit? That this country was built on our backs and that the whites in charge will never admit it and will never pay us for that labor? That every time someone refers to America as “a nation of immigrants” they are lying through their teeth?

I don’t know. I don’t know if Eve should hear that at age 7, when she may still be very much be focused on learning through play (and how do you learn slavery through play? On second thought, don’t answer that.). Or at 12 when she’s just starting her period for the first time and dealing with the changes that come with menarche. Or even at age 17 when she’s struggling through that eternally long in-between stage of childhood and womanhood.

I know that I said earlier that I can’t remember Before. That was true, in that I don’t remember ever being unaware that once upon a time, a long time ago, black people were forced to work for white people, which according to some whites “wasn’t that bad.” But I do remember Before I learned the full extent of the horrors that were visited upon us, Before I read about Emmett Till, Before I discovered Mississippi appendectomies, Before I learned how IQ tests were weaponized against us.

I didn’t learn about all of that until well into adulthood; and rather than feeling grateful for having been spared the knowledge as a child or teenager, I was angry. I AM angry. I spent so much of my life being so completely ignorant of what really happened, and I think of that former self – of the me that was Before – and I don’t think too kindly of her or the way that she regurgitated the racist memes that she internalized. Whether or not that’s fair is a topic for another day.

I just can’t help but feel that there is no age-appropriate or Eve-appropriate way to tell a child what has happened to us. I can’t help but feel that whether she is five or fifteen or fifty, she won’t help but feel wounded, as I did at first, and then angry, as I do now. The fact is that as a mother of color, I owe it to my child of color to educate her about her oppression and to arm her against her oppressors.

The truth will hurt her, but I owe her that pain. It belongs to her in the same way that it belongs to me.

That is our cultural inheritance now. That is our birthright. That is the mark (one of many) that slavery has left on us.

After.

Turnabout and Fair Play

September 16, 2010

I know that I’m not the only one who wishes she could respond to ignorance more quickly and with more cleverness.

All too often the only response I have to someone (this is in meat-space, mind you; I feel pretty satisfied with my online responses to jackassery) is a shocked look, a stammer, or a mumble. Despite the fact that I SHOULDN’T be surprised at someone’s rudeness, I frequently am. And it’s not because I didn’t know that people could be such jerks; it’s just that I rarely expect that level of upfront rudeness until it’s smacked me in the face. And then even after it’s happened, in the moments afterward I wonder if I could simply be taking it the wrong way. I wonder first if there’s something wrong with ME rather than THEM.

While we were on vacation last month, a strange white woman started cooing at Eve, who was toddling about in her little blue peace sign flip flops. She asked her in a high-pitched lilting voice, “Can I take you home with me?” I personally think it’s weird to ask to take home someone’s kid, even jokingly, but enough of my friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers have done it by now that I figure it’s normal enough. So I didn’t mind that; in fact, I was smiling because Eve was smiling at the woman.

Then things got genuinely bizarre. The woman added, “You want to come home with me? Do you want to do my dishes? How about wash my laundry?” My mouth dropped open, Eve just smiled at her, and before I even had time to fully process the fact that this white woman had pretty much just asked my black child if she wanted to be her domestic servant, the woman had already turned tail and disappeared.

In mere seconds, the interaction had gone from casually friendly to racially fucked and I said nothing to defend my child. My brain was still going “Wha-?” as the woman’s back turned, and by the time she was gone, I was already questioning myself and doing whatever mental acrobatics I needed to do to convince myself that THAT HADN’T REALLY HAPPENED.

I’ve never been very good at defending myself against the microaggressions that I receive from whites. Most of the time it happens too quickly for me to process and respond, and the times that it isn’t, I’m not able to just flippantly tell the jerk about hirself. Every time it happens, I must weigh the consequences of my possible responses, because people of color do not have the option of standing up for themselves without paying a price. Sometimes I deem that it’s worth it: I won’t get fired, hauled into HR, thrown out of the organization, or blacklisted in my field for speaking up or speaking out.

Most of them time I decide that it’s not worth it. I could say something, but I don’t, because I need this job, I enjoy this organization, I really want to work with the local lactivists even though they’re overwhelmingly white and therefore bound to sideswipe me with their privilege.

I don’t think that it makes me a bad person, choosing not to fight those battles. But I do wonder if it makes me a bad mother.

I don’t actually think of myself as a bad mom, for the record. I just can’t help but wonder how many times the damage to Eve caused by my inaction outweighs the perceived benefits to myself.

Beyond the First Year

September 12, 2010

As I type this, my lovely child is cuddling with me on the couch, with her head resting on my left arm and one of her legs slung over my right arm. She’s blinking sleepily as she nurses, idly stroking my belly with one small hand.

I love these moments. Now that she’s a curious, active, loud, and joyful toddler, these kinds of nursing sessions are becoming much less frequent. In the beginning, when she was a newborn, all of them were like this. It was just me and her; my milk would make her sleepy and content, and the surge of hormones I got when letting down did the same to me. We dozed together, held hands, played with each others fingers and gazed into each other’s eyes.

Now the usual nursing break is full of acrobatics. When she’s feeling particularly silly, she likes to nurse upside-down with her bum pointed towards my face. She pulls on my shirt, slaps my chest, yanks on my free nipple, sticks her fingers in my mouth. She blows raspberries into my breast, bites my nipple (thankfully rare), slurps instead of sucks, hums loudly.

I used to be able to nurse in public very discretely, with the hem of my shirt hiding my breast. She doesn’t allow that anymore, presumably because she doesn’t like having my shirt in her face, so she pulls it upward, exposing my boob to…well, everyone. We still nurse in public – it’s our legally protected right! But “discrete” is frequently left out of the equation and I’m pretty okay with that.

I don’t mind the acrobatics. Sometimes it gets on my nerves, but mostly she just makes me laugh. But I do miss the stillness of these moments, which only comes every few days rather than several times every day.

Now that Eve is over a year old, I’ve been getting more questions. People have told me, “She needs full fat cow’s milk.” They go silent when I tell them that breastmilk has a higher fat content than cow’s milk. My coworkers have noticed that I’m still pumping twice a day at work, still taking home my little bags of liquid gold to freeze. My mother complains about the fact that Eve isn’t getting more of her nutrients from “real” food; she talks about my milk as if it were merely a refreshment rather than a critical source of nourishment.

People keep telling me, “It’s time to stop,” and every time I have replied, “No. It is not.”

I don’t know how long that Eve and I will be doing this. It might be another year and a half. It might be another three years. Every child is different. Every nursing dyad is different. The thought of nursing a preschooler doesn’t bother me; it’s the inevitable social discipline and shaming that makes me nervous. The modern American ideal of a proper nursing relationship is just so ridiculously and drastically skewed from what we as large mammals are biologically geared for; and any deviations from that ideal are ridiculed and demonized – which is ironic (and sad)  considering the fact that just as recently as a century ago, the vast majority of American children were nursed until three or four years of age.

I have no intention living the modern ideal, and I’m more than okay with that.

I’m loving it, in fact. I’m just living in the now, enjoying this warm little body snoring softly against mine.

Blue

September 10, 2010

I was lucky enough to find a vintage ad for the bike I’ll be picking up today. I can’t embed the image, so here’s the link to the 1987  Falcon Triathlon 105 and a description of the ad below.

Description: The top of the ad shows the side view of a totally sweet road bike with a white saddle and drop handlebars and a red frame that says “Falcon” on the down tube. Below the bike is the text “Route 66” with the background of an American flag. Below that are three black icons depicting a person swimming, cycling, and running. The text of the ad reads:

For the serious Triathlete, Falcon are proud to present the Triathlon 105.

As part of our exclusive ‘Route 66’ series, this unique bike has been engineered to meet the exacting demands of American riders. Which means it comes equipped with the very latest in state-of-the-art componentry.

Built with Reynolds 531 tubing, deploying full Shimano 105 ensemble with SIS gearshift and Biospace chainset, it offers a classic combination of pace, power, and portability.

FALCON CYCLES

I’ve named her Blue (don’t ask me why, I really don’t know). I can’t wait to take her for a spin!

A Review of Milk, Money, & Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding

September 9, 2010

[Image Description: The cover of Milk, Money, and Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding, shown in orange and white block text over an abstract green and purple background.]

The Summary

MM&M is the very first book about breastfeeding culture that I ever picked up. I had a handful to pick from, but what persuaded me to read this one first was the amount of pictures, charts, and illustrations that I saw when flipping through the book. I’m a visual person, so actually seeing the material culture around breastfeeding (ranging from old-time Nestle advertisements to startling images of emaciated babies, to photos of women nursing animals alongside their own children, to figurines of women nursing the elderly back to health) really left an impact on me and drove home the importance that breastfeeding has had on humanity throughout our existence as a species.

There is a wealth of knowledge in this book, as well as tons of references (I love references!) provided in an appendix to give the reader some leads on further reading. The book itself is a bit dated, having been published a decade and a half ago, but much of the information is still relevant, accurate, and crucial knowledge for any lactivist.

Random passages of the book did seem kind of judge-y, and I could see that being kinda off-putting to formula-feeding parents.

The Breakdown

Section I: Breastfeeding Beliefs and Practices

This section is divided into two subsections, one about breastfeeding norms and customs from around the world, and the other about wet nursing. The section exploring different cultural practices and norms was refreshingly even-handed; the tone was not “Look how weird [and inferior] the norms of non-American cultures are!” – which is sadly common – but more like, “Oh hey, there are a ton of different ways that people approach this, and the Western way is not necessarily the right way. In fact, you can’t really call any way ‘the right way,’ so yeah.”

There was at least one section that made me cringe, although to be honest I didn’t take notes as I read because I didn’t have any plans for a review, so upon a second reading it might not be so bad. While talking about the intercourse taboo during the breastfeeding period that is prevalent in some cultures, the authors mention something about how barriers to breastfeeding to women of the developing world contributes to overpopulation. While I am in full support of women everywhere making their own decisions about spacing between children (and, of course, whether they choose to have children at all), I have heard too many complaints about “those people” reproducing and the privilege and bigotry behind such complaints is usually pretty evident; the wording in this text (I’m gonna update this when I find the right page!) was iffy enough that I couldn’t tell if the authors were genuinely concerned about the former (women’s reproductive agency) or the latter (poor brown folks using up “our” – privileged Westerners’ – resources).

The subsection on wet nursing focused mostly, but by no  means exclusively, on European women. Other cultures, including black American slaves, are also discussed. The topic was not limited to the Western ideation of nursing only being something that a human mother does with a child, but explores interspecies nursing and the suckling of humans of various ages, including the elderly. Again, the authors treat the subject respectfully, without treating the exploration of non-Western cultures as an episode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Section II: The Miracle Food and Medicine

The two subsections here cover the properties of breastmilk (especially as compared to other infant foods) and the consequences of artificial feeding. While the section on breastmilk does delve somewhat into the immunobiological components of human milk, it was explained simply, which I – a woman who has not seen the inside of a science classroom for over a decade – was able to appreciate. There was plenty of information comparing the composition of breastmilk to other milks – mostly cow’s – and the physiological effects of breastfeeding on both infant and nursing parent.

The latter subsection details the practices and consequences – not only for the involved nursing (or non-nursing) dyad, but for the entire planet – of artificial feeding throughout history and the present day, in both developing and industrialized countries. It provided a historical context that called into question all of my assumptions about artificial feeding that I’ve been socialized to accept as “normal.”

This section was my favorite, and is the reason I was inspired to add Immunobiology of Human Milk (which, unfortunately, is WAY over my head and I will have to revisit after I do some private study on human immunobiology) to my library. The common perception of formula as being “almost like” breastmilk is roundly debunked here; in fact, the myriad ways that formula falls short (and the ways in which these shortcomings are minimized, ignored, or denied by the industry) is nothing short of breathtaking.

Section III: Breastmilk Economics – Shaping Corporate and Government Policies

These subsections explain the development of the WHO code, why it became necessary in the first place, and the conundrum of the working breastfeeding woman. The unethical practices of the formula industry (especially Nestle) and the decades-old efforts of mothers and advocates to combat them are laid out in explicit (and sometimes graphic) detail. This subsection also explains the various strategies employed by the industry in order to gain more consumers even at the expense of the children, parents, and communities who need breastmilk most.

The final subsection of the book looks into the barriers that working parents face when they want to pursue a healthy nursing relationship with their children, maternity benefits in various countries, as well as possible solutions to help parents bridge the gap between “gainfully employed” and “successfully breastfeeding,” as the two need not be mutually exclusive.

This last section was not as compelling as the first two, mostly because the book pulls away from an examination of cultural norms (which I love to read about) and focuses more on politics, legislation, and business practices (which are important, but I can’t say that I love reading about).

Appendices (in order):

  • Organizations Working to Promote Breastfeeding
  • Recommended Reading and Resource List
  • US Infant Formula Recalls, 1982-1994
  • Boycott Information
  • US Infant Formulas: Product Ownership
  • Physician’s Pledge to Protect, Promote, and Support Breastfeeding
  • Summary of Enacted Breastfeeding Legislation as of March, 1996

The Info

Title: Milk, Money & Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding

Authors: Naomi Baumslag, M.D. and Dia L. Michels

Published: November 30, 1995

ISBN: 0897894073 or 978-0897894074

Cost: The list price is $36.95 but I snagged a used copy from the Amazon marketplace for just $5.50.

Kill Your Car: Thoughts on Autocide

September 6, 2010

To say that I’m not a fan of driving would be an understatement.

I fucking hate owning a car. I got my license on my 16th birthday, and like most privileged teenagers I was ecstatic over the sudden “freedom” I had. That feeling dissolved pretty quickly, as my parents  quickly made me my brother’s chauffeur. For some reason they didn’t want him to stay after school any later than humanly possible, so I was forced to quit every one of my beloved extra-curricular activities for my last two years of high school so that I could pick him up at the earliest possible moment. He, on the other hand, was free to join after-school clubs and sports, and then promptly sucked at telling me when he had practice or not, so that I spent entirely too much time waiting in the parking lot for him to finish (time that could have been spent on my own after-school passions). I rarely went into the school to find him because I was almost always sexually harassed by the students (it was an all-boy Catholic school).

Not that I’m still bitter or anything (okay, maybe I am, a little), but that experience ruined the fun of driving for me pretty quickly. It never came back. Since then I’ve always seen driving as a chore, something that has to be done or else nothing else in my life would go right: I wouldn’t get to work, I wouldn’t get food, I wouldn’t have fun, blah blah blah.

My brother and I were not allowed to take public transportation when we were younger, so I am embarrassingly ignorant and afraid of it. Even as recently as two years ago, when I took the train to work for a week or two while my car was in the shop, my mother practically begged me not to do it, bringing up tales of commuters being assaulted or murdered while on the trains. (She does the same thing every time we make the six-hour drive to visit Marcus’ family, even though we drive; in the months leading up to a trip, she tries to talk us out of it, talks to us as if we are doomed to die on the road, and frets aloud that she’ll never see any of us again.)

I put down a deposit on a road bike, which I will be picking up this Friday (Squeee! Can’t wait!). I started doing some reading about riding safely in the road (which I’ve also never done; you can imagine my mom’s reaction to the very thought of it), and started thinking about commuting to work. It’s something I’d have to work myself up to, of course; I’m not exactly in the best shape of my life (I blame that on the baby), but I’m no stranger to physical challenge either. If I can ride a unicycle 15 miles (which I have done and would like to do again someday), then I can ride a bike just 10 miles. It would take about an hour one way (according to Google; that seems too long to me), but I could always take public transportation back at the end of the day, if I felt like it. I could even alternate riding and driving (drive one day with the bike on the car, bike back home, bike to work the next day, drive back home, repeat) until I build myself up to making a round trip commute.

I just…really hate my car. I really hate the obligation I have to my car. A quick list of the pros:

  • Having a method of transportation in bad weather
  • Being able to go somewhere on the spur of the moment
  • Transporting the baby
  • Transporting stuff

And the cons:

  • Gas ($)
  • Insurance ($)
  • Car note ($)
  • Repairs ($)
  • Maintenance ($)
  • Traffic jams
  • Registration ($)
  • Inspection ($)
  • Time spent in the car is sedentary (unlike walking or biking)
  • Can’t study/read/write while driving (unlike on public transport)
  • Parking meters and garages ($)
  • Parking tickets ($)
  • Tolls ($)
  • Destroys the environment
  • Makes it easier to make large impulse purchases
  • Makes it easier to get fast food
  • I hate the actual act of driving

As you can see, my list of cons is much longer than my list of pros. And we could save a truly significant amount of money. But the times that we need a car, we really need a car. Fortunately, there are other ways of obtaining a car other than owning one: renting one, sharing one through service such as Zipcar, borrowing one. And the public transportation around here is not the most reliable; if I really want to get somewhere that’s not in biking distance, I’d have to be very prepared for possible delays. But I’m just not convinced that a life without car ownership is doomed to be miserable, tedious, or worrisome. So many people manage it out of necessity; I don’t think that it would be impossible for us to figure it out.

If we didn’t have to worry about getting Eve to daycare, I would have a serious talk with Marcus about just getting rid of the car altogether. But since we do have her, the best we can do is to try to go car-lite instead of car-free. I’m going to track my mileage this week (a normal non-daycare week) and then see how low we can bring that number. At least we only have one car to worry about instead of two.

And in the meantime I’ll dream about the day that I can kill my car and (most importantly) my dependence on it.

Shitty little Chevy, I wish I could quit you.

I Haz a Twitter

September 1, 2010

Follow me at twitter.com/shehasmyeyes.

It’s going to be a slow posting week. We moved (which took a hellish 10+ hours because I reserved a truck HALF the size that we needed), so now life is full of unpacking (we’re halfway finished unpacking already, which is AMAZING for us), cleaning up the old apartment, and moving stuff in and out of storage. Marcus and I are tense, stressed, and overwhelmed; poor Eve has been clingy and whiny, unnerved by all of the changes around her.

I would just like to fast forward to a month from now, when we feel more settled and are comfortable in our daily routines. I hate this transitional period. This is my third or fourth move in five years, and somehow it just never gets any easier.